B Michael Coughlin Jr.
At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 21, the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) demonstrated its firm disapproval of a plan to subdivide the lot at 75 St. Alphonsus Street – the site of the JVue apartments – in order to build a new six-story multifamily residential rental building at 45 Worthington Street.
The proposed development, comprised of 150 units, would replace the current above-grade parking garage, which is now used by the 75 St. Alphonsus Street residential building.
During last Wednesday’s meeting, attendees were asked to vote not on the project itself but on the prospect of subdividing the lot at 75 St. Alphonsus Street. An overwhelming majority – 20 of 22 respondents – voted against subdividing the lot.
While the vote demonstrated the general displeasure for the subdivision itself, the overall purpose of the vote was to allow for a CAMH-backed letter to be sent to the Inspectional Services Department, the developer, City Councilors, and Mayor Michelle Wu asking to not go forward with the subdivision.
Worthington Street resident and Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services Board Member Ellen Moore, who spoke at length about the situation, described the need for sending the CAMH-approved letter explaining that once subdivision happens, it has poor ramifications for public feedback.
“This is a new technique for being able to build as-of-right. You subdivide the property, and then the old building – the existing building – needs retroactive variances, but because these are so-called existing conditions, the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeal) tends to let them go,” said Moore.
“Then the community has absolutely no say over the new building because it’s being built as-of-right, and we don’t get to say that it’s too dense, but we still get double the density.”
Not only do those in CAMH want to send the letter to make sure their voices are heard for the potential project at 45 Worthington street, but they are also nervous about what precedent this subdivision tactic might set.
“We’re also afraid that this is just going to be the new technique all over the Hill for every unbuildable lot of any size, and developers of any size, you know this is what they are going to do,” said Moore.
As the voting results indicated, those in attendance were not pleased with what subdividing the lot would mean, especially in the realm of public feedback.
“The troubling thing about this is that, again, I think this is an end run around public comment … Without having either a large project review or something where people have to work by variances to be able to control this, it takes any power away from the neighborhood to say that we want some kind of input,” said CAMH’s Membership Secretary Gary Walling.
In what was a meeting full of agreement, there were, however, differing opinions regarding dispersal of the letter as an idea was brought forward to make the letter public on the CAMH Facebook page and to send it to media outlets.
One resident thought it would be prudent to wait to make the letter public until the developers received it in order to keep a formal and respectful dialogue. However, others did not think it was necessary to play nice.
“I think you have to kill this thing out of the gate – ASAP – there’s no sense in pussy-footing around. They’re not your friends, they will not be your friends, they want to do this development, and if they’re being nice in the beginning, fine, wait til it gets nasty,” said Richard Giordano.
“I see no reason – no reason – to go halfway as you start this process.”
Luanne Witkowski echoed Giordano’s sentiment, alluding to previous proposals in the area that did not go over well with the neighborhood.
“I, too, don’t think that we should be nice about it because they proposed something a few years ago; they heard that neighborhood loud and clear about how opposed we were to them putting a behemoth up on that lot, and what did they do, they turned around and found a way around it,” said Witkowski.
“Let’s do what we have to do to protect our neighborhood.”
It is clear that for CAMH, the gloves are off in a battle that has just begun to preserve the neighborhood.